High hopes for Ghost Town sale
Opened atop Buck Mountain in 1961, Wild West-themed Ghost Town in the Sky used to draw as many as 600,000 visitors a year to Maggie Valley, but after a combination of maladministration, mechanical difficulties and even a landslide, the park began opening intermittently, and then not at all, leaving a gaping hole in the local tourism economy.
But on April 25, Beverly-Hanks real estate broker Billy Case listed the property for sale at $5.95 million, sparking hopes that the park might one day soon contribute to the already-solid tourism sector in Haywood County and return to its former glory.
“It never really was performing well since I’ve been here,” said Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark, who’s been with the town since 2005 and has served as manager since 2013. “But obviously it’s been a tremendous loss to our tourism-based economy.”
Lyndon Lowe, chairman of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, agrees.
“Having another family-oriented attraction in the county would certainly be a benefit,” he said.
Lowe — who also owns 16 rental cabins in Maggie Valley — wasn’t in business when Ghost Town was at its most full-throated, but did see increases in his business during the sporadic re-openings of the park under the ownership of Alaska Presley.
“We still get requests every single week about Ghost Town,” he said May 25. “I just had someone check in yesterday who asked what time Ghost Town was opening up.”
Haywood TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins said she continues to hear about the park regularly as well — a testament to its almost five-decade impact on families far and wide.
“We still get those people in the Visitors Center who have stories to tell about how they went there on their honeymoon, or their parents and grandparents brought them here as children,” she said.
Any buyer would inherit these memories, along with the brand, the trademark, the warehouse and several homes on the 200-plus acre parcels — along with the cremains of “several” people whose last wishes included having their ashes spread at the cherished park.
Case said he hasn’t had any showings yet despite the “national” interest generated by his listing, but has three lined up for the coming month, including with one unnamed businessman who had fond memories of the park as a child.
“They’re all extremely well-qualified buyers,” Case said. “We want a buyer with both the resources and background to operate the park.”
Case said he was surprised last month to see how good the park still looks. Many of the buildings have new roofing; a Smoky Mountain News reporter who visited the site last summer also noted the condition of the buildings.
“It looks like it could be open within 30 to 60 days if a buyer is found,” Case said, citing improvements Presley made to the park under her ownership. Presley purchased the park out of foreclosure in 2012 for $2.5 million and poured several more million into improvements to the electrical system, water and sewer, an evacuation route under the chairlift and the chairlift itself.
While Presley couldn’t seem to get enough water up the mountain every summer and had problems overcoming annual inspections, Case said those problems had been solved — potable water is now available, the roller coaster and the chairlift have been inspected and have the necessary permits to begin operating after minor repairs.
The 90-plus year old Presley is “still mentally very sharp” according to Case, but probably doesn’t have the stamina to run the operation like it needs to be run; she does, however, want to see the park flourish.
“Were it to open, it would be a tremendous catalyst for further development,” Clark said.